Archive | August 2014

So that…

Two little words which imply intent.  Two words that can take an action and connect it with the desired outcome.

We give our tithes and offerings so that the work of the church can continue.

We give shoes and clothes so that children can be supplied with basic needs.

We give our change to the homeless on the corner so that they can eat today.

We help the poor and the elderly with everyday chores so that their needs will be met.

When we give our money, time, and efforts to causes so that good can be accomplished, we are truly blessed in the giving.  But haven’t we heard the stories or experienced for ourselves the disappointment that comes when our giving is unappreciated, taken for granted, or even misappropriated?

Leaders that scam others into giving to causes that don’t exist.

The person to whom we gave our time and effort to help who refuses to make any effort to help themselves.

The homeless who took our money and bought drugs or alcohol rather than food.

We are indignant at the blatant misuse, the disregard for the sacrifice made, the lack of gratitude expressed through their taking what was given without fulfilling the intended purpose.  We often withdraw and refuse to give or help others out of our fear that we will be taken advantage of again.

How God must feel when He looks at those who have taken His most precious gift and not done what was intended with it!!

…and He died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves, but to and for Him Who died and was raised again for their sake.   2 Corinthians 5:15

He has made the sacrifice to provide us a new life.  And He asks us to give up the life we had so that He can orchestrate the desired outcome He had intended when He created us.  To surrender ourselves to this death of self is the road to the greatest fulfillment of our deepest desires.  It is the only road to true life.

To live for Him is the foundation of being a Christ-follower.  Some of the followers walked away from everything they knew to follow Him.  Others stayed in their home town and kept their same jobs while following Him.  It’s not so much about the geography or the profession as it is the heart that is willing. Willing on an everyday basis to simply ask Him:

“What do you want?”

and to respond to His commands, whatever they may be, with

“Yes, Lord”

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A fixed purpose

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The alarm was set, but I am up long before its intended alert.  A restless night does not bode well for an early morning run.  Not only am I sleep-deprived, but my legs are screaming for another day of rest.  As I drink my coffee I debate:  to run or not to run, that is the question.  Reluctantly, I surrender to wisdom that says don’t push it today.  This is difficult because I have a plan.  I have my goals outlined and my runs scheduled.

It’s easy for me to get tunnel vision.  Even though the track I run is simple, making it unlikely to get off track and impossible to get lost, I find many days that my focus literally stays on the track.   I don’t have to look at it to know where it turns or where the inclines will be.  I’ve run it often enough to be comfortable on it.  Yet I am often so fixed on counting my laps, watching my time, and accomplishing my goal that I rarely look up and I miss most of what is around me.  The grace of the duck on the water.  The stillness of the rabbit in the grass.   The calm of the small waves on the lake.  This beautiful surrounding gets lost on me when I am fixed only on my purpose to run.

Tunnel vision is something I have to guard against.  I can be so focused on the task at hand that I completely miss what’s going on around me!  I pray for God to use me to encourage and minister to others, yet when I’m out and about with my list of things to do, many times all I see is my list of things to do and  I completely miss the people around me – the very people that I can encourage and share His love with!

Walking this path as a Jesus follower does require our attention and focus.  We must fix our eyes on the purpose He has for us and we must guard our steps.  But the longer we walk with Him and learn His ways, the more we can find rest and ease on this path we follow.  He raises our heads and opens our eyes to see more of Him along the way – His grace, His peace, His beauty.  The more we see of Him, the more our eyes will be open to where this path going.  It is taking us to our greatest purpose, the one that should capture our attention every day – it is leading us to others who need Him.

I’m too sleepy to be productive and too awake to go back to sleep.  I strongly dislike this limbo land.  I struggle to focus enough to ready my devotional, which is normally how I start my mornings.  Laying down my book, I look out the window to find the darkness beginning to leave and I decide to grab my camera and flip-flops, reheat the half cup of coffee I have left, and take a walk where I normally run.

There’s a cool breeze blowing as I slowly walk the track.  I stop on the side that’s nearest the lake and watch as the clouds on the horizon turn a beautiful shade of pink.  Squirrels cross my path as I meander on further and walk out on the pier.  I’m fixed on a different purpose this morning – a determination to take it all in and let Him have His way with this day.  I breathe in His peace with the breeze and enjoy the anticipation of the kiss from heaven that is about to break forth.   This morning isn’t going as I planned.  But it doesn’t disappoint.

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One hour

I took a place in the sanctuary away from the few that were already seated.  It was quiet and reverent, each of us there to spend time in prayer.  A specific prayer emphasis had been introduced to the congregation and the doors opened for any who would come.  This could not have been a more timely opportunity for me, a confirmation of sorts for what God is leading me to in a few short days.

I love the atmosphere of His presence in the sanctuary.  I know He is with me always in every place, but there is something special about a house built for the purpose of worshiping the One True God.  When I enter this room, particularly when it’s quiet, it is so easy to leave the rest of the world outside and find a sense of refuge and protection.  I am humbled with my first words of thanksgiving for the freedom I have to enter this place without fear of retribution.  The refuge and protection I find has more to do with the pressures of this life than any sense of persecution that so many across the world are experiencing.  As I think on these first things, I pray for the many who are risking their lives to worship and I pray that their faith hold firm.

I didn’t bring a list of things to pray for.  I am weary of trying to come up with the right words to pray for all the things I think I should be praying about.  The number of people and circumstances and situations that need our prayer is overwhelming; if I’m not careful I am stuck before I ever get started.  So I sit before Him and wait.  I am waiting for Him to tell me what I should pray.

He leads me to read the account of the disciples who were with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was experiencing the intense pressure of what was about to take place.  He was sad and grieved and He asked Peter, James, and John to “keep awake and keep watch” with Him.  Matthew says He went a little further from them, threw Himself on the ground and prayed “…not My will, but Yours.” When He came back to the disciples He found them asleep…

….What!  Are you so utterly unable to stay awake and keep watch with Me for one hour? 

Before He takes me any further in this passage, He impresses on me the importance of the amount of time we spend with Him in prayer.  He doesn’t want us to make a “law” out of a certain number of minutes or hours that we are required to pray.  But He tells me that one of the biggest frustrations that we have in our prayer lives is that we don’t give Him enough time.  We pray through our lists without ever asking Him what we need to pray, and then become frustrated when our quick five-minute prayers go unanswered. There is something about sitting with Him until we have prayed through what He wants us to pray, no matter how long it takes.

All of you must keep awake – give strict attention, be cautious and active – and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

When Jesus asked them to stay with Him and pray, He didn’t tell them to pray for Him.  He told them to pray that they would not come into temptation.  He knew they were true to Him and that their spirits wanted to follow Him completely.  But their flesh was weak.  The temptations were coming to run, to deny Him, to lose faith in what was really happening through His crucifixion.

I can only imagine how the disciples felt.  They had just spent their last hours with the One they loved telling them He was leaving.  Not only was He leaving, it would be by death.  Luke writes …He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from grief.  They were emotionally drained and He tells them to stay awake and pray.  What was He telling them to pray?  I believe He wanted them to pray the same thing He was praying:  Not my will, but Yours.

I don’t understand this mystery of prayer.  He is God.  He can make anything happen at any time, yet He chose to include us in the method His will would be accomplished on this earth.  He gave to us the most amazing privilege and the greatest responsibility in one act:  prayer.  And He promised that tremendous power is made available through those who pray earnestly (James 5:16)

So as I ask Him what He wants me to pray, He leads me this way and that.  There doesn’t seem to be much order to the way He is taking me….the young woman going through difficult times….the homeless in our area….the starving children in third world countries….the ministries in our own church….the missionaries across the world….the little girl who lives next door…. but I leave this hour knowing that I have waited with Him and that He is working.

 

 

 

 

 

Approaching storms

Looking to the west with the sun at high noon, the sky was a brilliant blue with cotton ball clouds scattered about.  The kind of sky that makes you smile.  However, turning to the east was an opposing image of angry black clouds spitting flashes of lightning as they rolled toward me.  My beautiful bright sky would be turned to turmoil in only minutes.  I picked up the pace in completing my errands in order to find refuge from this approaching storm.  Hearing the thunder-claps and the pounding of the rain against the windows from the comfort of my home became something to enjoy rather than escape.

I was adequately prepared to be out in this storm – umbrella within arms reach, fuel to prevent being stranded, appropriately dressed for the temperature, even if it drops a few degrees (a source of delight for Houstonians in August).  Yet I wanted to avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of slogging in and out from the car to the stores, the messiness of carrying a wet umbrella everywhere, and the potential for an embarrassing exhibit as my feet would slip and slide in my wet flip-flops.  So I chose to put off what could have been done today for another day when the sky might be bright again.

I think of how many times I have tried to outrun the storms in this life.  For so long, when I would see them on the horizon all my energy and efforts were applied to trying to escape the impact that was sure to come.   Ill-equipped to face the onslaught, fear sent me scrambling to find shelter, doing whatever I had to do to quell the panic inside.  Fear made the winds of disapproval stronger, the thunder of anger louder, the lightning of harsh words more frightening, the black clouds of uncertainty darker, the incessant pounding of the rain of insecurity more fierce in its attack – no matter what plan of escape I had, they seemed to overtake me again and again, leaving in the aftermath a mess that was my soul.

I put off what needed to be done in the storm – have the hard conversations, push through the difficult emotions, learn how to stand up for myself – believing it would be easier to face when the sun came out again.  Yet when the skies turned bright I still lacked the knowledge of how to deal with the storms.  I couldn’t outrun them and I didn’t know how to go through them and come out with my soul intact.

When the disciples were in trouble in the storm and Jesus appeared to them walking on the water, He didn’t immediately calm the storm.  He called Peter to Him IN the storm.  He didn’t just try to calm Peter’s fears while he was in the boat, he told Peter that he would be able to do what He was doing – walk on the water in the midst of the storm.  For that to happen, Peter had to step out of the only thing that could save him in the natural – the boat.  He had to do something he had never done before, something that he was scared to do, something that didn’t make sense.  And while Peter did let fear creep in and Jesus had to save him, kudos to Peter for getting out of the boat!  Once Jesus had caught Peter and they both got in the boat, then the seas became calm.  (Matthew 14)

We need refuge from the storms in life.  The refuge, the shelter and protection that God is for us isn’t just in the boat on calm seas.  It’s there in the midst of the storms.  This Refuge calls to us to step out into areas unknown, doing things we’ve never done before, and getting drenched in the process!  I suspect that Peter was already soaked to the skin before he ever began to sink.  A miracle happened in Peter’s life that day that even his moment of doubt couldn’t change – he walked on the water.  Can you imagine the conversations that happened on that boat?  Yes, they were awed by the calm seas, but if I had to guess, they talked even more about Peter’s experience!

To find Him as our Refuge, we must believe in His everlasting, immeasurable, abounding love for us.  He knows storms are coming our way and He is our way of escape.  He doesn’t prevent the storms and He doesn’t always keep us dry and comfortable.  But He always reveals Himself more clearly and causes us to do things we never believed possible when we see Him, move toward Him, and stay with Him in the midst of the storm.

God is our Refuge and Strength [mighty and impenetrable to temptation], a very present and well-proved help in trouble.  Psalm 46:1

Be merciful and gracious to me, O God, be merciful and gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge and finds shelter and confidence in You; yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.  Psalm 57:1

I must admit, I will never be a storm-chaser.  I don’t run after them.  But I am definitely a storm-facer, no longer afraid of the storms on the horizon for I have found my Refuge.

 

 

 

The eyes of the beholder

I’ve recently begun to follow a television series about fashion design.  New designers compete for a sizable prize to be awarded to the winner in the grande finale at season end.  I endure all the drama and tears each episode (ugh) in anticipation to see what they have created with fabric and thread and the occasional “unconventional material”.  A simple seamstress myself, I find it very impressive what the contestants are able to design, construct, fit and present in such a short period of time!

You can see the occasional grimace from the designers as they watch their models walk the runway, some  knowing they did not accomplish what they had intended.  For the most part, however, they are beaming with pride at their creation, believing it to be the most beautiful and, therefore, the winning piece.  The clothing is then critiqued by style professionals who determine which garments accurately represent the theme of the challenge given to the designers.  I am surprised week after week, as many times the strangest concoctions are the ones that receive the most praise.  The criteria for “high fashion” continues to escape me…but to the judges who have an eye for it, the garments are beautiful.

As I was thinking of how we humans can see things so very differently, God brought to my memory the multitude of times that my husband has told me I am beautiful.  More times than not, it is when my hair is a mess, I’m sans make-up, and dressed in my grubbies.  Often my response is a verbal thank you, yet with a scoffing attitude that gives his words a different meaning than he intended.   I take the compliment as an expression of his love for me, which it is.  But it’s not only his deep affection for the inner me that speaks.  He looks at me in the natural and sees beauty.  I am so focused on my flaws or my lack that I find it hard to receive this truth:  I am beautiful to him.  It perplexes him that I am hesitant to believe him.  He so very much wants me to.  To refuse to accept his perspective as real is to refuse a portion of the love he offers me.  I don’t want to do that – I want to receive all his love.  So as I meditate on this love he offers, I don’t care if anyone else can see what he sees.  It doesn’t matter because I am beautiful to him.

Not one to leave things unfinished, God showed me that we do the same thing with Him.  He has poured out His love to us and we accept it, proclaim it, and revel in it every day.  Yet when He tells us that we are beautiful creations, we discount this expression of His love.  Yes, the inward man is eternal and much more important than the outward physical body in which it’s housed.  But He created our bodies to be His temple.  The temple He instructed the Jews to build from stone wasn’t plain and bare.  It was elaborate and intricately designed, fashioned as an appropriate setting for His presence.  How much more must he look at the people He has made as “living temples” and smile!  He hasn’t reserved His look of pride and approval for heaven only.

I believe He wants us to see ourselves as He sees us – His design, beautiful inside and out, because of His love.  It’s not proud or arrogant to be confident in who He has made us.  It is a reality that sets us free to be all that He designed us to be.

He is the Beholder and in His eyes we are beautiful.  The Creator with an eye for beauty looks at us and still says “It is good”.  Perhaps no one else sees in our natural form what He sees , but that’s ok.  Because we are beautiful to Him.

So shall the King greatly desire your beauty…  Psalm 45:11

Give us this day….

…our daily dose of guilt…

I’m not sure when it began, but I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t feel guilty about something. My experiences as I grew up only added to my existing supply.  So much so, that I imagined myself with a bag that would rival Santa’s and Mary Poppins’ combined – no matter how much you took out, the bag remained full of all sorts of things.  Not that I ever really took any out….

…Until I discovered that Jesus bore ALL my guilt on the cross.  It took several years to empty this burdensome collection, as in the beginning I would remove one issue and simply replace it with another. Did you know that you can feel guilty about not feeling guilty??  But the more I studied the price paid through His death, the more He began to show me how to let Him have it all.  And now that I have found my freedom, I bristle at even the generic attempts to put guilt back on me:

If you care whether or not cancer is cured, you’ll change your status for an hour….

If you love Jesus you’ll post/forward this…

If you’re not stingy, you’ll buy two books for this toddler you don’t know and sign your own child/grandchild up for this amazing chain letter guilt trip….(Ok, well maybe it’s not stated like that, but it’s how I read it…)

Today’s dose of guilt:  how can you grieve the suicide of a famous comedian when X number of veterans commit suicide unnoticed every day?

Rather than respond to this social media post with a snarky comeback or holier-than-thou comment, I chose to meditate on my feelings about this question.  My meditation led me to another question, which is at the heart of why this bothered me so:  what makes a man’s life worth mourning his death?

Does his noble purpose in life make his death more important?  Does his lack of success or misuse of his time while on this earth make him less worthy of being mourned?  Do we measure the sorrow of death by the activities of life?  Not if you’re the surviving wife, or child, or sibling, or friend.  Not if you are God.

God created man and breathed into him His own breath.  This image of Himself was His greatest work – the work to which He planned to give Himself fully.  This being of flesh and bone was designed to be the recipient of His love.  And it was good.

David understood the heart of God towards him:

I will confess and praise You for You are fearful and wonderful and for the awful wonder of my birth!  Wonderful are Your works, and that my inner self knows right well…How precious and weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!   Psalm 139:14, 17

Every single human being matters to God.  We who believe in Jesus will face death – and our deaths are precious to Him because He waits to gather us to Himself in a completely unhindered relationship.  Jesus wept over those who wouldn’t come to Him and accept His love.   He wasn’t weeping because believers were more important than non believers, or because He rated their life value based on what they did or didn’t do.  He wept because He knew what they would miss upon their death.  Life.

I never met this comedian.  I am sad that one who brought the good medicine of laughter to so many has died by his own hand.  I am sad that one who had so much found it wasn’t enough.  I am sad to read that he didn’t believe in God.  I am sad if that is true, that I will not see him one day in heaven.  I am sad he is gone.

My sadness over this death does not minimize my sorrow for those who die in battle, or under the bridge in their homelessness, or from starvation on the other side of the world.  My heart is large enough to grieve for them all.  And just between you and me, if one receives my focus today more than the others, I will not feel guilty that I care.

 

 

Overwhelmed

Living in the Information Age is all the younger generation knows.  They are growing up with devices in hand that literally can provide knowledge on gazillions of topics in mere minutes.   What took us hours of research to discover in libraries and encyclopedias in times past, now is available with one click or touch or swipe.  Vast amounts of information transferred through cyberspace to anyone who knows how to find it.

That’s where I get stuck.  The simplicity of the search engine request opens the flood gates and I am immediately overwhelmed.  Which link do I select to gather the knowledge I seek when there are thousands to choose from?   Who has time for this??  Occasionally my search results in me having found the information I needed, yet without the ability to recreate this success in the next search.  Most often, however, this sense of being overwhelmed paralyzes me into inactivity.  If I don’t have someone to help me, I stop searching.  I choose a state of ignorance rather than the frustration that leads to the impulse of approaching my computer with a hammer.  The frustration of simply not knowing what to do.

More times than not, what I need to do is very simple.  So simple, that I wonder why I get so overwhelmed.  I am never going to understand how all of it works or absorb all the information available, but I can find what I need and use that information to accomplish my goals.  IF I don’t allow myself to become overwhelmed.

Perhaps you can identify.  We turn on the television or the computer and are bombarded with the stories and images:  Politics.  Starving Children.  War.  Persecution.  Crime.  Sin celebrated.   Vast amounts of information that, as Christians, is supposed to matter to us.  Occasionally we see something we can do – we can cast our votes, give to a cause, voice our protests, boycott businesses – all for the purpose of influencing change.  But the information comes day after day after day, and if we are not careful we become so overwhelmed that we stop doing anything.  To some, we appear callous and disengaged, uncaring and uninformed.  But mostly, we are just overwhelmed and frustrated.  After our initial prayers over these situations, we don’t know what else to say or what else to do that will have any real impact on these enormous problems.

As I write this, there are Christians being put to death for their faith, children being slaughtered when parents refuse to deny Christ, other families dying from starvation.  So as I sit in the comfort and safety of my home and I grieve over their suffering, I ask “What can I do?”  As God led me to a familiar scripture, I was ashamed that I had primarily only applied this verse to my own selfish desires:

Now to Him Who, by the action of His power that is at work within us, is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams…  Ephesians 3:20

He has promised to take our prayers and do more than we can ever imagine with them.  Even the simplest of prayers, uttered with the right motives, are powerfully effective:

…The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available (dynamic in its working).  James 5:16

What do I do?  There is a simple answer.  Pray.  I don’t understand why He chose prayer as a tool.  I don’t know how He alters circumstances and changes lives using the simple words I utter.  I may not see any particular answers to these prayers until I’m in heaven.  But I don’t want to forget that He is faithful and has given me a promise that He will do with my prayers infinitely beyond what I can desire or think.  So I pray.  I continue to pray simple prayers believing they will have a profound impact because of Who I am praying to.  Will you join me?

 

 

 

 

 

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